Israeli physician describes mental and physical recovery ahead for released hostages

The hostages released from Gaza face immense mental and physical trauma. Dr. Hagai Levine, the head of the medical and resilience team for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, began to meet some of the 13 Israelis who once again are free. Nick Schifrin spoke with Levine about the recovery ahead.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Seven weeks of captivity, seven weeks of worry for the families of some hostages is now over. Today, Hamas released 13 Israelis and 11 Thai and Filipino workers kidnapped in the October 7 terrorist attack.

    In exchange, seven weeks of war in Gaza is now on pause. Israel silenced the guns and allowed more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. The hostages range from 4 to 85 years old. And, tonight, they are receiving medical care surrounded by their families.

    Tonight, the sounds of freedom, horns and rousing cheers. The first Red Cross trucks carrying released hostages arrived at the Rafah Crossing in Egypt, women and children loaded into buses that crossed into Israel to be reunited with their families after 49 days of the captivity.

    Among the released, 85-year-old Yafa Ader, mother to three, great-grandmother to seven. On October the 7th, she was abducted from kibbutz Nir Oz and paraded through Gaza City. Her oldest grandson is still a hostage. Also released, the Monder family, 78-year-old Ruthi, 58-year-old Keren, and 9-year-old Ohad.

    The Asher family, seen here being kidnapped, mother Doron and daughters 4-year-old Raz and 2-year-old Raz Aviv, and Danielle Aloni and her 5-year-old daughter, Emilia.

    There are so many released children, the hospitals receiving them are trying to create an atmosphere that feels like home. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the release and said it was just the beginning.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister (through interpreter):

    Each and every one of them is a whole world, but I emphasize to you, the families and to you, the citizens of Israel, we are committed to the return of all our hostages. This is one of the goals of the war, and we are committed to achieving all the goals of the war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Biden welcomed the news from Nantucket.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: We also will not stop until we get these hostages brought home and an answer to their whereabouts. I remain in personal contact with the leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Israel to make sure this stays on track and every aspect of the deal is implemented.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Part of the deal was the release of 10 Thai and one Filipino worker kidnapped by Hamas, and 33 Palestinians who had been detained at Israel's Ofer Prison in the West Bank; 150 will eventually be freed.

    Israel's security forces used tear gas to disperse those waiting to see the exchange, but some finished their long wait at home. Palestinian Sawsan Bkeer's daughter Marah had been jailed in Israel for eight years. When the October 7 attacks took place, she was moved into solitary confinement.

    Sawsan Bkeer, Mother of Palestinian Prisoner (through interpreter): I'm happy. These tears are tears of joy. Do what it means that Marah has not been with us for eight years? I have been trying to cry for a month now and was not able to. It just happened now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh pledged to respect the deal as long as it remained mutual.

  • Ismail Haniyeh, Chairman, Hamas Political Bureau (through interpreter):

    The movement affirms its commitment to implement the agreement and making it successful, as long as the enemy commits to implementing it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Israel's part of that implementation quiet. This morning, the sun rose for the first time in 49 days without the drones buzzing overhead or airstrikes hammering the ground. Many displaced Palestinians hope to return to their homes.

  • Ahmad Wael, Gaza Strip Resident (through interpreter):

    I am now very happy. I feel at ease. I'm going back to my home. Our hearts are rested, especially that there is a four-day official cease-fire, better than returning to live in tents. I'm very tired from sitting there without any food or water. There at home, we can live. We drink tea, making bread using the fire in the oven.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the IDF today delivered a clear warning in Arabic to Gazans displaced in the south: Don't go north.

    And Israeli troops enforced that warning by opening fire on Palestinians trying to move north. Tanks also guarded the evacuation route. The final condition of today's deal, more humanitarian aid. Egypt said tens of thousands of gallons of fuel and 200 aid trucks will now be allowed to enter Gaza each day while the truce holds.

    But the U.N. today warned, even that was only a fraction of what's needed.

    Jens Laerke, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: We hope the agreement between Israel and Hamas now enforced will bring respite to the people of Gaza. And Israel and some relief to the hostages and detainees who will be released and to their families.

    We hope it allows grieving families to honor their dead and bury them with dignity. And we hope that this humanitarian pause leads to a longer-term humanitarian cease-fire for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The hostages who were released face immense mental and, for some, physical trauma.

    Earlier today, I spoke with Professor Hagai Levine, the head of the medical and resilience team for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, part of the team meeting the hostages who once again are free.

    Professor, let me just begin by asking you, how are they doing?

    Hagai Levine, Hostages and Missing Families Forum: We know, for some of the hostages that were released today, two women already arrived here. Some of them spoke with their families.

    And I know, from one of the families that the grandmother sounds well over the phone. And we saw some picture of them walking, which is encouraging. However, the recovery process is going to be long. They will be needing not only mental and physical support, but also to be examined to rule out any specific medical problems.

    We know — for some of them, I know their medical profile. I know that they have severe chronic illnesses that probably were not properly treated. So they still need to be examined, and, on parallel, over 200 innocent people still being held by the Hamas, and they are not receiving the proper medical care and psychological care for recovery.

    Tonight, we really hope that this week all of them will be either released or, for the very least, receive a Red Cross visit to examine and treat them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How are you approaching the treatment overall as different groups of hostages are going to different hospitals?

  • Hagai Levine:

    So the principles of the care should be personal, professional and patient.

    So, in any case, it's better to be separate in several hospitals. So I know that, in one hospital, they are preparing for the release of people that came to work in Israel from Thailand and the Philippines. They have interpreters. They have the food that is needed. The family members of them, of some of them are there to treat them with culturally tailored treatment for them.

    And here at Wolfson, mainly for elderly women, so the team was prepared to give them the exact care that they need.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    These are people who have been presumably kept underground in tunnels and very difficult conditions.

    What do they need mentally to begin to understand the trauma they have been through and begin to recover from it?

  • Hagai Levine:

    So we need to help them to get back control over their lives.

    They were very passive and afraid over the last seven weeks. It start with the surprise with the October 7 massacre. Some of them have seen their beloved murdered or their house burned. They don't know the atrocities that happened. We will need to see how we deliver the bad news to them.

    And they did not have any control of their life. Now we need to help them to be active again, to become humans again by making the choices. But it will — going to be step by step. We need to help them gain back trust in humanity, because to have this kind of experience is very, very difficult for anyone.

    That's why the family members are so important, to feel the support for people they know well. Unfortunately, for some of them, the family members are still captive in Gaza or were murdered. So that's another thing that is very difficult.

    I want to look at the positive side. I met with Judith Raanan and Yocheved Lifshitz, who were released several weeks ago. And I was amazed by their resilience and ability to recover. So I hope we will see similar things now that, with the help of the medical teams, the psychologists and the social workers and the families, that the released hostages will be able to recover, and as much as possible and as quickly as possible.

    Again, unfortunately, for those who are still captive, they cannot even start the recovery process.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do they also need a specific environment, open spaces, green, that they presumably haven't seen for seven weeks?

  • Hagai Levine:

    Well, yes, they have been underground and did not see the sunlight, did not have a place to do some physical activity, did not have the social encounters they need.

    Maybe some of them miss the most the pets, OK? So, that's why pets were allowed to be brought to the hospital. Each one of them will have to choose what is the most appropriate place for them. And I must tell you, our colleagues all around the world, with the amazing support we get from people all around the world, it's very encouraging for the families and now for the hostages.

    I'm sure that, when they realize that so many people in the world care about them and want them to be healthy and well, that is very helpful for the recovery.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As you said, you have met recently with hostages who were released in previous rounds. What advice did they give you in order to try and help those who are being released today?

  • Hagai Levine:

    The first advice was to keep away from the journalists, from the media. That's actually what they told me, because, again, they want to tell the story, but it's difficult for them to be in a crowded place.

    They are sensitive. And, of course, they may need their anonymity. They became famous all around the world. I hope that politicians and all kinds of other figures will not try to come and to take photos with them, et cetera, because they want, most of them, just to come back to their normal life.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Dr. Hagai Levine, the head of the medical and resilience team for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, thank you very much.

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